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Discuss one social psychological theory of aggression
Deindivivuation describes the loss of any personal characteristics of identity therefore
leadings to a change in the thinking of an individual. Deindividuation can occur in many
ways e.g. wearing uniform in social roles and the activities of crowds. Individuals are
normally seen as refraining from aggressive acts as they would be identifiable and therefore
liable for blame however in situations such as crowds, social restraints and personal
responsibility are perceived to be lessened therefore displays of aggressive behaviour occur.
Lebon first described deindividuation in relation to aggressive behaviour, he
believed that 3 factors lead to deindividuation in a crowded situation. Anonymity, this is
where the individual feels unknown to the crowd. Suggestibility, where they do not process
information properly and are able to be led by the crowd and Contagion this is where ideas
are quickly circulated and accepted through the crowd due to majority opinion. According
to Lebon, these three factors in a crowded situation lead to disinhibited behaviour where
people are more likely to act aggressively against personal norms.
Some psychologists argue that this is a reductionist definition of deindividuation as
it has been suggested there are many more factors involved in aggressive behaviour that
cannot be explained by this theory for example genetic factors. It can also be noted that
aggressive behaviour may also be influenced by situational factors e.g. alcohol or
temperature. As the theory of deindividuation does not cover all factors that may be
associated with causing aggressive behaviour it could be seen as inaccurate.
Prentice Dunn and Rodgers refined the explanation of deindividuation suggesting it
was down to a two staged loss of self awareness public and private. The loss of public self
awareness is where an individual maintains their own moral code but ignores them in
favour of the crowd. The loss of private self awareness is where the individual is no longer
aware of their own identity and truly believe they are taking on the beliefs and behaviours
of the crowd. The researchers suggest it is not anonymity that causes aggression in crowds,
but the loss of private self awareness.
Naturalistic evidence to support deindividuation comes from analysis of newspaper
reports of suicides in the USA in extreme cases the onlookers became deindividuated by
the crowd and encouraged the victim to jump. This shows the influence of a crowd
environment may lead to a loss of moral values. However this information was taken from
individual case studies in the USA which are unique situations dependant on the person
which are unable to be generalised to other populations.
Further research on the link between deindividuation and aggressive behaviour was
given by Mullen who studied racist lynching. He found that reports of lynching showed the
larger the crowd the more vicious the lynching suggesting the exposure to crowds leads to
deindividuation and in turn aggressive behaviour. However, this research lacks cultural and
historical validity lynching conducted in America were linked to a very specific
individual set of circumstances therefore deindividuation in this case cannot be generalised
to other situations.
Marsh disputed the theory that crowds cause deindividuation he conducted
research into football crowds and found a number of small groups were responsible for
orchestrating the violent behaviour of the group rather than senseless deindividuated
individuals. Demonstrating that just because there are strong opinions in the group this
does not mean they are influencing the opinions of others around them.
This is supported by a Meta analysis of 60 research studies on crowd violence in
which no evidence for the loss of public/private self awareness was found however Meta
Analysis include a variety of different research methods which cannot be compared
therefore limits the validity of data that was collected.
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Another way deindividuation can lead to aggressive behaviour is through uniforms,
uniforms cab take away individual characteristics of the person and allow them to conform
to a social role. This theory is supported by Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment where
students were given uniform either prisoners or guards it was found that conformity to
each of the uniform roles occurred and such aggressive behaviour was demonstrated by the
guards that the study was stopped 6 days as it deemed to be dangerous.…read more